Mumps is an infectious illness caused by a virus. The main symptom is swollen salivary glands (at the side of your face). It spreads really easily, so if you have it, you need to stay away from places where others are at risk of getting mumps for 5 days after the swelling starts. Vaccination with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the best way to protect against mumps.
On this page, you can find the following information:
- What is mumps?
- How can I prevent the spread of mumps?
- Who is at risk of getting mumps?
- Mumps and pregnancy
- What are the symptoms of mumps?
- Can there be complications from having mumps?
- How is mumps diagnosed?
- How is mumps treated?
- What self-care can I do if I have mumps?
- Why is vaccination so important?
|Mumps is highly infectious — it spreads very easily from one person to another|
If you think your child has mumps, or you have it yourself:
If you are not immune (because you haven't had mumps or are not fully vaccinated) and you've been in contact with somebody with mumps:
(Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ)
What is mumps?
Mumps is caused by a virus called paramyxovirus, which is found in your saliva (spit) and secretions in your nose and throat. It's easily spread from person to person:
- Mumps is spread when a person breathes in the virus that has been coughed or sneezed into the air by an infectious person.
- It can also be spread via face-to-face contact within a metre, or by touching an object infected from saliva and mucous, such as a used tissue or keyboard.
How can I prevent the spread of mumps?
If you or your child has mumps
If you have mumps, you are infectious from 2 days before any swelling appears until 5 days after. If you or your child has mumps you don't have to completely isolate but you do need to avoid places where there may be people at risk of getting mumps to stop it spreading to other people.
For 5 days from when the swelling first appears, don't go to public places including:
- Healthcare facilities unless you need urgent medical attention, and then you must ring first and wear a mask when you attend.
- School, early learning centres or tertiary education centres.
- Sports and cultural events.
- Anywhere you know there are people who have not been vaccinated against mumps or who are at risk, eg, due to having a weakened immune system (see below: who is at risk of getting mumps).
For people who are NOT immune
If you are NOT immune and are living with or have had close contact with somebody with mumps you will also have to stay away from public places. This includes work, education facilities and healthcare facilities – unless you need urgent care. You will also need to stay away from other people at risk.
The time period you need to stay out away from others is from 12 days after the first day of contact until 25 days after the last day of your contact with the person infectious with mumps.
Who is immune?
You are immune if you:
- have had 2 MMR vaccinations with the last dose given at least 4 weeks before you were exposed to the virus
- are aged 12–15 months and have had 1 dose of MMR vaccine, given at least 4 weeks before you were exposed to the virus
- were born before 1 January 1982
- have a medical record that shows you have had mumps previously.
Who is at risk of getting mumps?
Anyone can get mumps, but you are at greater risk of getting mumps if you come into contact with an infectious person and have never had mumps or been vaccinated against it.
High-risk groups include:
- children under 15 months of age
- people born in New Zealand after 1981 who have not had mumps or 2 MMR vaccinations.
People at higher risk of serious illness from mumps include:
- children too young to be vaccinated
- pregnant women who aren't immune
- people with a chronic (long-term) condition
- people with a weakened immune system:
- transplant patients
- people with illnesses such as leukaemia or HIV
- cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- people taking high-dose steroid or immune suppressive medication.
Mumps and pregnancy
If you are pregnant and think you have come into close contact with someone with mumps, call your GP or lead maternity carer as soon as possible. Pregnant women who have received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine before pregnancy are almost certainly protected. Pregnant women should not have the MMR vaccination.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
The most common symptom of mumps is painful swelling in one, but usually both, salivary glands. These are just under your ears and behind your jaw. The swelling usually develops over 2 or 3 days, before reaching a peak and easing off. It tends to last around 8 days. The glands are sensitive to touch but not usually red and hot.
Image credit: CDC/NIP/Barbara Rice, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Other symptoms include:
- high temperature
- pain when chewing and swallowing
- sore throat
- loss of appetite
- mild stomach (tummy) pain
- dry mouth
Men and adolescent boys can experience pain and swelling in their testicles. Some people, mainly young children and older adults, may not have any symptoms even though they have mumps. The time from being exposed to the virus and becoming sick is usually about 2–3 weeks.
Can there be complications from having mumps?
In most cases, mumps does not cause serious damage to your health. In rare cases, it can cause serious complications, such as:
- hearing loss – in most cases this is temporary and will pass, but, in some cases, it can be permanent
- swollen testicles or scrotum (orchitis) – this affects 1 in 5 adult males with mumps and in rare cases cause infertility (inability to have children)
- swollen ovaries (which causes a more severe tummy pain) and swollen breasts in girls and women
- inflammation of your brain (called encephalitis)
- inflammation of the lining of your brain and spinal cord (called meningitis).
How is mumps diagnosed?
In most cases, a doctor will diagnose mumps based on the symptoms, particularly the swollen salivary glands and fever (high temperature), as well as a swab taken of the buccal mucosa (the lining of the inside of your mouth). Sometimes, a blood test may be required to help with the diagnosis.
If your symptoms are severe, or there are complications, you may be asked to have a blood or urine test, or a cerebrospinal fluid test (lumbar puncture or spinal tap). Your doctor may also ask you about any recent travel overseas. The risk of mumps is higher in some countries that do not have the mumps vaccine as part of their immunisation schedule.
How is mumps treated?
There is no specific medical treatment or cure for mumps. Antibiotics don't work because the illness is viral. Treatment aims to ease your symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.
What self-care can I do if I have mumps?
- Have plenty of bed rest.
- Place a warm flannel, wheat bag or cold pack against your swollen glands to ease tenderness.
- Drink plenty of cool fluids, especially water.
- Avoid acidic drinks, such as fruit juices, as they can stimulate your salivary glands and cause you more discomfort.
- Eat soft foods that don’t require much chewing, such as porridge or soup.
- Paracetamol can be given to help reduce your fever and ease any pain.
- Make sure you measure children's doses accurately and follow the directions given on the bottle or product packaging.
- Men with severe inflammation in your testicles may be prescribed a stronger pain reliever or corticosteroid to reduce inflammation.
Why is vaccination so important?
Vaccination is the best way to prevent mumps. No mumps-only vaccine is available in New Zealand. The combination measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against mumps. Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended after the age of 12 months, given at least 4 weeks apart. Having only one dose of the MMR vaccine does not give adequate protection against mumps.
- Once 2 doses of MMR are given, the vaccine provides 85% protection against mumps.
- Check with your GP or practice nurse to see if your child has received both vaccinations. If they haven’t, get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccination is free.
- If your child was born outside New Zealand or you are not sure whether you or your child has had 2 doses of MMR, it’s safer to get vaccinated as there’s no additional risk to having a third dose.
- A small number of people who have been vaccinated will still catch mumps, but they are less likely to be seriously ill.
Read more about the MMR vaccine.
The following links provide more information on mumps. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
Mumps Ministry of Health, NZ
Mumps Auckland Regional Public Health Service, NZ
Mumps FAQs Auckland Regional Public Health Service, NZ
Mumps The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ